Ethics are central to social education, and making ethical decisions underlies the purpose of teaching critical thinking and interpretive skills in the classroom. The point in acquiring these skills is to apply them in the real world when deciding "what ought to be," "right from wrong," and "good from bad." Few educational philosophers would disagree up to this point. However, when discussion begins on how to teach ethics, beliefs diverge considerably.

Ironically, both the extreme left and extreme right wings of educational thought seek the same end, that of ethics inculcation. Inculcation of anything is a dangerous if not unethical proposition. Inculcation is a pernicious method, used by totalitarian states, that runs counter to student-centered, progressive education in a democratic society. The logical response to the maligning realities of inculcation is that some ethical behaviors, such as honesty or bravery, are intrinsically "good" and deserve teacher modeling and wholesale student acceptance. But buying into any value, without logically arriving at the utility of such a value for a particular situation, renders it meaningless for the student. For instance, many situations dictate that we must not be honest or brave to attain an ethically and positively "good" outcome. Thus, rather than inculcation, ethics in a democratic society must be taught as a flexible system, arrived at through logic and reason, that ultimately situates students to act in ways that are ethically sound.

This thesis unfolds in five parts. The first begins with the premise that social education is central to education and that ethics are the par excellence of social education. The second part deals with the far left of the educational spectrum, specifically the inculcating views of multiculturalists. The third area focuses on the conservative side, and its push for certain unquestionable universal ethical codes. An eclectic solution, based primarily on the philosophy of Deweyan pragmatism and various ethical theories, follows the conservative view and offers progressive alternatives to this most essential element of education. The final section contains the implications of teaching ethics in schools in light of these three perspectives, with a view toward further inquiry.